Stir by Palghar's fruit growers threatens to delay Modi's bullet train

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet project, the $17-billion Japanese-aided bullet train project connecting the country’s commercial capital Mumbai with another Ahmedabad, looks set to miss a December deadline for land acquisition following protests by fruit growers.

Now, in the wake of a stir by fruit growers in Maharashtra’s Palghar district, government officials are worried of the impact of the delay on project execution and are monitoring the progress on a weekly basis.
Indian officials also sought to reassure Tokyo that the hurdles can be overcome through intense negotiations with sapota and mango growers in Maharashtra.
Protests, backed by local politicians, have flared up in recent months against attempts to secure sections of a 108-km stretch, which is around one-fifth of the entire bullet train corridor connecting Mumbai with Ahmedabad.
"I`ve worked hard for three decades to develop this plantation, and they are asking me to hand over this land," sapota farmer Dashrat Purav, 62, said as he showed his orchard in the town of Palghar, a three-hour-drive from Mumbai.
"I haven`t worked hard to surrender land for the project. I did that for my children."
Purav said he would sell his land only if at least one of his two unemployed sons was promised a government job.
"Land acquisition for any project is complex in India," said Dhananjay Kumar, spokesman for the National High Speed Rail Corp Ltd (NHSRCL) that is overseeing the project. "Here also we are facing difficulty because of so much resistance."
Any delay in project execution would delay disbursal of soft-loans by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a government development body.
A JICA spokeswoman said that India must create relocation plans for local residents and make them public in order to enter into a loan agreement covering the main part of the bullet train project.
"It is possible that it takes time to sign a contract as India takes proper and careful measures in line with JICA`s guidelines for environmental and social considerations," she said.
Meanwhie, Indian officials have sought a meeting this month with transport ministry officials in Tokyo, with a view to get the project execution deadline extended by a year to 2022.
A Japanese transport ministry official who deals with the bullet train project said that Indian officials had told them that "they can manage" the land acquisition.
"We will continue to work together with the Indian government to bring this project forward with an aim to start operation in 2023," the official said.
Japan is funding the bullet train project through a 50-year loan. Japanese companies such as Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp, JFE Holdings, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba Corp and Hitachi are likely to supply at least 70 per cent of the core components of the rail line, according to a Reuters report.